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Montana GOP Lawmakers Withdraw Subpoenas For Justices

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Jacob Baynham
/
Community News Service, UM School of Journalism
Montana Capitol

UPDATED 06/22/21 10:30 p.m.

After months of battling in court, Republican lawmakers are withdrawing their subpoenas demanding that Montana Supreme Court justices and their staff turn over their emails. Opponents of the GOP's request are pushing for a ruling on the legality of the subpoenas. 

Republican Sen. Greg Hertz, the chair of a special committee leading an unprecedented investigation into the Montana judiciary, said in a statement that lawmakers still expect judges, justices and their staff to "release public records."

GOP leaders issued the subpoenas to the state’s seven Supreme Court justices and the court administrator in an investigation into allegations of bias and misconduct. Justices have denied any wrongdoing.

Hertz says the state Department of Justice advised lawmakers to drop their request for judicial branch emails. A final ruling on the legality of the subpoenas has yet to be issued.

Randy Cox, the lawyer representing Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin in the case, said his client will ask the Supreme Court to issue a final ruling on the legality of the subpoenas.

“We think that this is an issue that could recur, should not recur and the court should put some sideboards on it and make some decisions about what is the appropriate scope of a legislative subpoena,” Cox said. 

Lawmakers' grievances include judges and staff emailing about proposed policy that could see legal challenge, deleting emails, and improper use of state resources to lobby on behalf of the judicial branch, among other claims. Republican lawmakers argue it’s their job to hold judges and justices accountable.

Six of the justices had already temporarily blocked their own subpoenas and one for McLaughlin before lawmakers pulled their requests.

A district court judge also temporarily blocked a subpoena for Justice Jim Rice and wrote that legislators overstepped their authority by issuing it.

Cox argues that the subpoenas were too broad in scope and says they appeared to be politically motivated.

According to the Montana Supreme Court’s weekly conference agenda, justices discussed the subpoenas Tuesday afternoon shortly before lawmakers decided to pull their request.

Hertz says the investigation into alleged bias and misconduct is far from over, but next steps have not yet been decided.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.